Upgrading espresso machine for no future regrets

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
gingerjess

#1: Post by gingerjess »

The short version: I'm currently using a Breville Infuser and hitting its limits, so I'm looking to upgrade to a machine that I can happily use for the foreseeable future.

About me:

I mostly brew light-to-medium roasts, often at a longer extraction ratio with a long pre-infusion. I enjoy the tart fruity notes I can get there; the Breville's high default pressure does tend to produce some slight acrid notes on the backend that I'm not a fan of, though, and commenters on here tend to suggest that adjusting the OPV can seriously throw off the temperature calibration.

I typically make one latte (7oz milk before stretching) in the morning and one or two plain shots in the afternoon. I'm almost always just brewing for myself; my partner drinks tea. It's fun to make a latte for the occasional guest, though. And it's gratifying that I can produce drinks that are typically at least as good as the specialty cafes in my area.

I grind using a Eureka Mignon Specialita with a full hopper; typically I'll dial in a bean for weight, set the timer to dispense that quantity at the current grind setting, and run it for 0.5s before each dose to get out any stale grounds. I've added a 3D printed adjustment knob, and that solved the biggest complaint I had about the Specialita, which was lack of precision in adjustment.

While I can do basic tinkering and maintenance, I don't want to have excessively reconfiguring a stock machine as part of my workflow. Dial an OPV to get an optimal maximum pressure? Sold! Change the path of how water flows in a machine to use a factory knob outside its intended purpose or hack in a dimmer switch to control pump voltage? Honestly, not interested.

I am looking for a machine that will support my current workflow, provide additional stability and predictability on the brewing side to match the grinding side, and grow with me as I figure out how to dial in light roasts more precisely. And I want that machine to be one that I'm happily still using years from now, dropping in here only occasionally to look at peoples' favorite beans and maintenance tips.

I don't have a budget exactly, and I know that something like the Lelit Bianca or the ECM Synchronika would be absolutely sufficient for all my needs (counter space aside). But those are really expensive machines, and I'd love to avoid spending that much if possible. With that in mind, here are my top contenders, and my biggest fears for each:

ECM Classika: What if I really hate waiting for the steam to come in every morning?
Lelit MaraX: What if the temperature control isn't precise enough to get the shots I want consistently?
Lelit Elizabeth: What if the built-in pre-infusion controls aren't sufficient to get the best extractions from light roast beans, and I can't add real flow control?

My hypothetical ideal machine would be an E61 (supporting flow control devices) PID single boiler with a secondary thermocoil for occasional adequate steam (a la the Quickmill Silvano).

I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially if you're an owner of one of these machines and had similar fears.

Ypuh

#2: Post by Ypuh »

I guess there are never really regrets when buying an espresso machine, but your wishes and changing desires just decide you to move to something new.

Price will always be a factor. My previous machine was a Rocket Evo R and to be fair, that is all the machine you'll ever need and leaves very little to desire or room for regrets. I guess that's about the pricepoint you need to be to experience that feeling, starting with the Lelit Mara-X (in Europe about €1.000) and it kind of ends at the Lelit Bianca (in Europe about €2.000). Those machines ticks all the boxes including temperature adjustability and stability (to 95% which is enough), and from that pricing onwards you'll have a tough time explaining to the unknown why you needed more.

That range also includes brands such as ECM, Profitec, Rocket etc. which would be my preference over Lelit, but they aren't going to help your price consciousness. Anything below that price range will leave you want for more eventually.
I don't want a Decent

macal425

#3: Post by macal425 »

I just upgraded from the Breville Barista Express to Lelit Bianca. I did my research and was all set to get the Mara X. It seemed to be more than enough of a machine for my 'current' needs. However, there was something at the back of my mind that kept telling me that I would end up regretting getting it and would be lusting after the Bianca before too long, especially if I wanted to start experimenting more (which I do). So, I decided to just jump straight ahead to my end game machine and got the Bianca. As the saying goes, "buy once, cry once". Since it was delivered a couple of days after ordering, I had little time to have buyers remorse. Once I saw it on my counter and started using it, I knew I made the correct decision. The fact that you are thinking about both the Mara X and the Bianca, suggests that you may regret getting the Mara X, after a while.

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BaristaBoy E61

#4: Post by BaristaBoy E61 »

gingerjess wrote:
My hypothetical ideal machine would be an E61 (supporting flow control devices) PID single boiler with a secondary thermocoil for occasional adequate steam (a la the Quickmill Silvano).
Would you consider a lever machine, perhaps even second hand?
"You didn't buy an Espresso Machine - You bought a Chemistry Set!"

gingerjess (original poster)

#5: Post by gingerjess (original poster) » replying to BaristaBoy E61 »


I have thought about a lever! I had the Odyssey Argos on my list for a while as being a temperature-controlled option, but with the ship date being pushed and the machine still needing to go through regulatory safety review, I'm less and less convinced that it'll actually ship (or at least, for the current pre-order price). It also has the same potential issue as the Classika in terms of warming-for-steam delay.

The other lever machines (at least, in this general price range) seem to all share the same temperature imprecision that makes me want to not consider HX machines besides the MaraX.

It's also really hard to figure out if I would actually enjoy the lever machine process without going out and buying one.

gingerjess (original poster)

#6: Post by gingerjess (original poster) »

macal425 wrote:The fact that you are thinking about both the Mara X and the Bianca, suggests that you may regret getting the Mara X, after a while.
Something to think about for sure! There's also a local shop that seems to still have a Bianca V2 in stock...

macal425

#7: Post by macal425 » replying to gingerjess »

The fact that I managed to get one of the last V2's for $600 less than the V3, kinda forced my hand also.

Ypuh

#8: Post by Ypuh »

gingerjess wrote: The other lever machines (at least, in this general price range) seem to all share the same temperature imprecision that makes me want to not consider HX machines besides the MaraX.
I've seen you mention this twice now, but I can tell you that you've been reading a bit too much into this.

The E61 groupheads have been around for so long because they are already very stable and high up in the range. Especially the PID controlled models such as the Mara-X and Rocket Evo R (I had a temp sensor on there, but stopped looking after a while. It doesn't require flushing and always stayed within 2-3 degrees). Adjustability changes a bit from machine to machine, but a High/Medium/Low PID setting is just fine. Anything within a degree or 2 doesn't make much sense. It's mainly the non-PID controlled HX's that need a flushing routine and would benefit from a tempsensor, however it'll always be a useful add-on to give you a baseline.

The La Marzocco's and other saturated counterparts are even better at this, but splitting hairs to be fair and out of budget so not worth bothering about. A dual-boiler is the summon, but looking back there's not only benefits. HX's are very capable in most ways too. I wouldn't even mind downgrading that much, as long as it's a higher end HX (Rocket, ECM etc).
I don't want a Decent
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gingerjess (original poster)

#9: Post by gingerjess (original poster) »

Ypuh wrote:Especially the PID controlled models such as the Mara-X and Rocket Evo R (I had a temp sensor on there, but stopped looking after a while. It doesn't require flushing and always stayed within 2-3 degrees). Adjustability changes a bit from machine to machine, but a High/Medium/Low PID setting is just fine. Anything within a degree or 2 doesn't make much sense. It's mainly the non-PID controlled HX's that need a flushing routine and would benefit from a tempsensor, however it'll always be a useful add-on to give you a baseline.
Oh interesting! I feel like that runs counter to a lot of what I've read but maybe things have just shifted. Obviously the MaraX has some amount of black magic to how it runs its loop (which is why it's even on the list!) but I'd love to hear more from other owners of modern HX machines about how they approach thermal management!

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another_jim
Team HB

#10: Post by another_jim »

I've had about a half dozen espresso machines and no regrets about any of them. But the key to that contentment is figuring out what they do well, and sticking to that. It sounds like you want the minimum machine guaranteed to do well with light roasts. Since I've used both Lelits you are considering, I can offer some insight.

Given a competent grinder, you can get a tasty shot with a light roast from any espresso machine by grinding finer and dosing lower. But this also gives subdued shots, like Italian style espresso, rather than the more in your face shots you et in 3rd wave cafes. I like this, and generally use 7/14 gram doses along with normal length preinfusions. For this style, the Mara X will do fine. The floating boiler pressure and constant thermosyphon temperature allows you to walk up and make shots without flushing or any other kind of thermal management, just like a double boiler machine. The longer preinfusion gives you some extra leeway for light roasts, but you'll still need to dose low.

When you have really light roasts, especially of washed coffees, this approach can have you grinding so fine and dosing so low, that you get watery shots. This is when profiling and lever machines become useful, since you can dose and high and grind fine, then do a long preinfusion and a dropping pressure shot. I do not know how light you want to go; but if you do want to go there; you'll want some kind of profiling ability.
Jim Schulman
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